Being stuck in the present we should remember the future too, the Philippines in 10, 20 years’ time.
This piece is intended just as a warming up exercise. The subject is too vast and interlinked with almost every aspect of life. These few paragraphs cannot cover it all. Just some thoughts by thinking divergently, searching the big picture, later we’ll have to think convergent, what needs priority, what is feasible, what to do.
A few blogs ago, Joe invited us to dream. And why not dream big? Dream about how we could best be “organized”. By whom? Who can best be trusted to represent our interests? On what? What should be an individual or family responsibility, what should be organized as communities as states or on a higher level to be more efficient or to guarantee a more level playing fields? How to organize all this?
And from what viewpoint? Do we organize for the highest GDP? Organize for the least suffering and/or the highest happiness? As a fixed (minimum?) level for all or as a fair distribution? (And what is fair? A GINI coefficient 0 is theoretical, 0.2 as the best distribution existing today in Scandinavia, or is 0.4 more realistic…) Are there other variables such as cost or efficiency, ease of implementation, level of acceptance, robustness or risk of high-jacking…?
What should the unifying stories be? Luckily we do not have to invent everything, we see examples of organization formulas in the animal world and, more interestingly, in our political, religious and economic history, some were more successful, some agonizing failures.
0. A few of my axioms first.
0.1 There are tangibles and intangibles, things that are “real” and things that are imagined. A suitcase with $1,000,000 in 100 dollar bills, the paper is real, the value is imagined based on stories we believe. The Philippines: the soil and the people are real, the nation is an imagined construction. A special category of tangibles are those that can suffer (intangibles can’t suffer at all).
0.2 There are 2 me’s. One that is biological, my geno-type, determined by my genes and the environment that helped them deploy and one that is perceived through my actions, my pheno-type. The more I can live who I am, the more the 2 align, the happier I will be. My physical strength, the responsiveness of my senses, the wiring of my brain are biological, optimal use of them makes me happy.
0.3 Biologically we evolved over millions of years as hominid and over during 70 millennia as the current Homo Sapiens. “Man is a social animal, not made to live alone”, Aristotle. Our brains are wired to live in groups of maximum 150 people. Living in larger groups required “stories” to unify, such as common religious beliefs, national identities, belief in corporations, in the value of a paper dollar bill. Fiction or story telling became at the core of our existence.
0.4 How to define “good”? Utilitarianism. Utility is the least “story” dependent. Utility not in economic terms but as the balance between all pleasure and suffering created by an action. (What algorithm should the programmer use for a self-driving car in a critical situations? Kill 3 pedestrians or ditch the driver in the ravine? 1 pedestrian child or the old driver, the future or the experience? Or do we need a selection knob so the driver can select himself “comfort for me always first”, “sport for whoever moves faster” or …?)
0.5 Until now we were focused on the “outside” for happiness, what happens around us, consumption. This century will focus on the “inside”, consciousness and self, the brain. To understand happiness, one has to start with suffering that is easier to understand. (Buddha was advance in this understanding. We will have to ask Edgar for help here)
1. Organization levels above the family and their scope.
As we are social animals the identification with a group is crucial. Identification with a family and its surrounding clan is natural. All other forms of identification require shared stories. Higher forms are necessary to achieve higher efficiencies through “economies” of scale and specialization in the economic world, the spiritual world, the political world.
1.1 The communities.
Simple win-win situations can be solved through cooperation of families, zero-sum situations will require a higher level to cut conflicts by setting and implementing rules. As we left the forest we organized ourselves (or were forced to) in many communities, economic, spiritual or geographic/defense/political. All spheres with their specific stories. Story telling became an art, mixing sticks and carrots, promising heaven and threatening with hell, we started selling (brainwashing?) them from kindergarten. Only OUR economic system will lead us to prosperity, every deviation will guarantee hardship; OUR God is more powerful and the only one able to lead us to heaven, every deviation will guarantee hell; OUR local union is the best, lack of support will expose us to plunder. Stories are essential for survival but notice that often the most fervent story tellers build in some perks for themselves (bankers and captains of industry, mullahs and cardinals, kings and other nobility…)
1.2 The State.
As communications and trade expanded and distances decreased, a higher level or organization was required. Geographic, spiritual and economic communities coalesced, a higher level referee was required. The absolute king was accepted as the representative of God, the ultimate decider. Later titles and the justifications changed, but the need for a national leadership remained. Original land and populations were a given in this zero sum situation and so wars were a given. The economy found new ways to create new needs and thus new growth.
1.3 The Blue Marble.
Many of our major problems today don’t recognize national borders. The technological disruption by robots, biological breakthroughs and algorithms spread as wildfire and can no longer be kept in the safe coffers of a single company or university. The effects of climate change are global, the biggest victims seldom the worst contributors. The finance system is organized on a global scale, money crosses borders in millisecond by decision of a computer. Some win-win situations can be solved through cooperation, zero-sum situations will only deteriorate, a new global identity story and a global referee will be required. Wait until the first major crisis will force us to do so or will we be able to anticipate?
2.1 With 100% involvement . . .
No representation needed, we can all decide the important issues ourselves by majority (or for constitution level of issues, by a supermajority).
– “Government by referenda”. All important decisions decided by referenda.
– Plebiscites and citizen initiatives. Citizens form action groups around specific issues and formulate policies that are put for approval to the public at large in a plebiscite.
– Ballot questions. Where different options cannot lead to a political decision, they can be formulated as a ballot question.
– Mega data and algorithms. The mega data of the “Googles” of this world linked to everything the government knows, GPS and telecoms know, what banks know… this mega set of combined data will know the citizens better than the citizens themselves. Smart algorithms could be used to decide the direction the majority prefers to go even without asking them. (Kindle knows what we read, when we read, where and when we interrupt our reading, a build in camera could flawlessly recognize our emotions while we read, and it will remember all this forever.)
– People Power events. All is OK until a mega manifestation of dissatisfaction decides otherwise, physical or virtual.
In a previous life I learned that a planned 100% control has its weaknesses too. The larger number of inspectors can be less capable or distracted. Production people can be less careful knowing that inspection is always the next step.
Even 100% representation initiatives will have absentees and this group will not be random, meaning that potentially large groups might not be represented in a final decision.
The average citizen decides on feelings/common sense instead of deciding rationally, based on facts. (And people prefer to talk about unimportant things they understand rather than talk about the important things they do not understand.)
The way a question is formulated influences the answers.
2.2 Direct Elections
Via a ballot box we select lawmakers and a chief executives who will run the country in a presidential system.
Lack of open political debate or an informed electorate makes it impossible to know who I can trust.
Interference by outsiders in the selection of candidates and in the campaigns, such as big money, moral crusaders, dynasties.
Tampering with the election mechanism.
Unfair election rules, crooked districts, too high thresholds, voting barriers…
Poor list of candidates, limited to political dynasties, selected only on celebrity power, turncoat trapos…
The cost of an election. In 2016: Comelec 9 billion, candidates spent 10 billion or some PHP1000 per family. (Plus hidden costs as unnecessary infrastructure works around the election, secret vote buying, cleaning up after the elections, travel costs, waiting….)
2.3 Indirect representation
– One method is “sequential sampling”; depending on the issues at hand, the decision is referred to a higher level, a more expert panel. We select community people we trust to select professional lawmakers and executives.
– Selecting via an electoral college(s). Staged, barangay officials selecting provincial officials who select regional governments who select the national officials.
– Or we select straight the national officials who select the president as in a parliamentary system.
– Or everything in between
The pyramid is only as strong as its base.
In-between levels might be “for sale”.
More difficult path for celebrities. Stronger parties required.
2.4 Authoritarian rulers
Embedded in a legal context or not. Authoritarian rulers can be selected via a legitimate system, assume dictatorship via a coup or by incremental steps. As it takes two to tango, at the other side we need “children” who need/want guidance and feel/are entitled of support. (Adults can decide and provide for themselves.)
Situational Leadership teaches that the best style of leadership depends on the “readiness” of subordinates, where readiness is the combination of knowledge and motivation. With no knowledge at all and/or no motivation at all a “tell style” or dictator fits best, (then comes a “sell style” as in a democracy with ample downwards communication, next a “support style” with less state and more communication upwards and ultimately a “delegate style” where citizens decide themselves what has to be solved and give directions on how it has to be solved.)
Authoritarian leaders want to govern alone, checks and balances are suppressed.
The easiest “carrot” story is “fight a common enemy”: externally the nasty neighbors, internally as the immigrants or poor drug addicts. The easiest “stick” is fear.
3. Some out of the box thinking.
3.1 Build a wall around California, not Mexico. Robots and algorithms take more American jobs then immigrants and there are bad dudes hacking too. Shoot plunderers and leaders of criminal gangs, not the poorest users and the poorest pushers. Plunderers create poverty the main source of addiction, top criminals organize the business. Analyze a problem before deciding.
3.2. People can select beauty queens in real time, why not let them decide in real time how some of their money is spent on a national level? (see Portugal were citizens can decide by line how a % of the taxes will be spent)
3.3 Stop expensive elections and select an electoral college at random from all registered voters. This college of 500 (1000?) voters selects the President and the Senators from the enrolled candidates via a majority (2/3?) and in a conclave. (Compare with a jury system.)
3.4 Replace the Senate by a body of randomly selected citizens who get ½ year training by randomly selected politicians, media people and academe. Refresh 1/3 every year. (The ideal job duration is 3 years: 1 year to learn, 1 year to work hard and 1 year to enjoy what you have done and train successors).
(see Belgian/Dutch G1000, the Swedish Pirates and LiquidFeedback)
3.5 Globalization of major problems (technological disruption, climate, finance…) caused many people to get lost. “We have no control over what is happening”. Cause and effect is no more related. e.g. With a tremendously lucrative invention of 3D textile printers in Silicon Valley, who will compensate the millions of Bangladeshi who will lose their jobs? The Californians or Santa Claus? Self-driving cars and truck drivers? Algorithms or AI and call center workers?… Will only Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook and the other Elon Musks decide? Will a new supranational body have to be organized? Or does America come first (those with the biggest gun)?
3.6 A normal reflex when one gets lost is to go back to a point he recognizes. This is wise in a static situation, but when new ways of transport are organized in the meantime, new cities build, new bridges and highways, it might be not such a good idea. Back to EDSA? Or were the changes too big in the meantime?
3.7 Peer to Peer movement. A mixed economy with 3 main organizers: the State, Companies and Commons. Commons are places where individuals exchange products/services, e.g. Linux, Bitcoin, Airbnb, Wikipedia, farmers markets, repair “libraries”, even in Facebook and Youtube the content is supplied for free by individuals… (Some are totally self-organizing, some are still “high jacked” by people with financial motives.) Work as a hobby for all, jobs for a few (The elite? Happy ones? Un-happy ones?)
- Again, the Philippines has extraordinary opportunities to experiment and take a lead: A very young population open for the future. (Many current “stories” are weak)
- An international presence via millions of OFWs and good knowledge of English. (First-hand knowledge of successes and failure in other countries, having multinational identities, global networks)
- Leading in the BPO industry with good knowledge what is happening in the digital world. (virtual versed, acceptance of AI, creative)
- Still strong in the “very old”, the very natural and satisfying world of families. The future will be closer to what our genes tell us. (knowing/living what it requires to “belong”, see Filipino value set)
- The nation state will be too slow to react upon technological changes, strong communities will be required to guarantee belonging, to anticipate or react fast in the changing world. Community life comes natural in the Philippines.
- The presence of a high need for change. The current political systems are failing.
- Negative is the education system with its emphasis on repeating what the teacher says. The future will require problem solving skills, creativity, initiative and the possibility to reinvent oneself again and again.
We have already plenty of organizational tools and we will have many, many more tools, massively more powerful and immensely more intelligent. But do we have the slightest idea what we have to build better? And how?
Our story telling is lagging, eventually we’ll have to invent new ones that can guide us through an exciting future.
Heavily indebted to Yuval Noah Harari of “Home Sapiens” and his recent “Homo Deus”